Hybrid-thinking, enterprise architecture and the US Army
Might seem a somewhat strange mix, but the link between them is Gartner‘s ‘new line of research’ in the enterprise-architecture/business-transformation space.
‘Hybrid thinking‘ is a term that Nick Gall and others in Gartner’s enterprise-architecture team have adopted from a Fast Company article in August 2009 by Dev Patnaik, ‘Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking‘. The idea is that the term ‘design thinking’ – currently sweeping the business-schools and elsewhere – is too limited, and supposedly only applies to product-design and the like. (As a qualified graphic-designer turned enterprise-architect, I think Patnaik and Gartner are kind of missing the point – for example, see the excellent BBC documentary ‘The Genius of Design: Blueprints for War‘ [60 mins; UK only, until 11 June 2010]. But never mind – Gartner are obviously entitled to use a different term if they wish. 🙂 ) Hence a broader-based alternative, which they call ‘hybrid thinking’.
The Gartner article ‘Introducing Hybrid Thinking for Transformation, Innovation and Strategy‘ may well fall behind their paywall by the time you read this; but there’s a link here to a PDF version [330kb] which may be available for longer, and also a slidedeck-plus-voiceover [video, 50mins] of Nick Gall’s presentation at the Gartner EA Conference in London in late May.
The Gartner paper defines ‘hybrid thinking’ as:
An organic discipline for taking on wicked problems by iteratively implementing transformative, innovative and strategic change via the co-creative exploration of human-centered experiences that are culturally meaningful, technically feasible and economically sustainable.
Which is what many of us would call enterprise-architecture, of course – in its proper sense of ‘the architecture of the enterprise’, that is, rather than ‘IT-architecture with a purported enterprise-wide scope’, which is what Garner has been describing as ‘enterprise-architecture’ until now. (And still does, if you read the Gartner paper in depth.) But Gartner describe ‘hybrid thinking’ as a kind of metaphoric structure where a human-centred form of design-thinking sits at the centre-point of a group of six intersecting areas of interest:
- enterprise-architecture [by which Gartner mean enterprise-wide IT-architecture]
- complex-adaptive systems
- pattern-based strategy
- resilience / panarchy
- network science
They also assert that “hybrid thinkers must also exhibit particular characteristics and and attitudes, such as the following: creative, empathetic, integrative, comfortable with ambiguity, optimistic, experimental” – which again are themes that others have argued are essential for whole-of-enterprise architecture.
What’s perhaps surprising is one of the key sources referenced by Gartner for their new model: the US Army. (Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising, since much the same people were involved in the development of one of the most valuable tools in organisational learning, the After Action Review.) If we think about it, though, the Army often has to deal with a far more extreme version of the kind of conceptual conditions that we face in present-day business: the need to make fast, accurate, effective decisions in real-time in the midst of inherent uncertainty and inherent complexity, with limited resources and incomplete information, where one false move can send the situation spiralling far out of control and with far-reaching consequences.
So perhaps again it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Army have turned to design-thinking as a guide for action: what is a surprise is how completely they’ve turned to it, because they’ve actually rewritten the whole of their operations-manual on that basis. Although they still use the somewhat simplistic language of ‘command and control’ in a few places, almost everything else has a solid grasp of true complexity – including the enormous complexities of culture. Gartner, for example, include the following quote in their Hybrid Thinking paper:
The introduction of design into Army doctrine seeks to secure the lessons of eight years of war and provide a cognitive tool to commanders who will encounter complex, ill-structured problems in future operational environments… As learned in recent conflicts, challenges facing the commander in operations often can be understood only in the context of other factors influencing the population. These other factors often include but are not limited to economic development, governance, information, tribal influence, religion, history and culture. Full spectrum operations conducted among the population are effective only when commanders understand the issues in the context of the complex issues facing the population. Understanding context and then deciding how, if, and when to act is both a product of design and integral to the art of command.
The exact same principles also apply to whole-of-enterprise architecture – hence the US Army materials will likely turn out to be a really valuable resource for enterprise-architects. Some examples include:
- home-page for the US Army Combined Arms Center’s ‘FM 5-0 The Operations Process’ manual
- FM 5-0 ‘Information Briefing’ [.PPT, 11.0Mb] – a very useful overview of the role of design-thinking in the new model
- School of Advanced Military Studies: ‘Art of Design: Student Text v2.0‘ [337pp; .PDF, 12.4Mb] – long but very useful
Most of the materials emphasise the warfighting role rather the civil-support/disaster-recovery role, which is a slight disappointment – the latter would probably have provided even better parallels for conventional enterprise-architectures. But what there is, is still a real eye-opener in many places, and a real breath of fresh-air for who’ve struggled for too many years with the stifling IT-centrism of so many other ‘enterprise’-architecture frameworks. Well worth a read, anyway.